Taking on Climate Change
By Jonathan Foley
Photograph by Kurt Moses/Un Petit Monde
Minnesota’s climate, like that of every other place in the world, is changing. And it’s changing because of us. There is no doubt that the effects of human activities, especially the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere through our burning of fossil fuels and our land use practices, are changing our climate. This isn’t new science. In fact, the basic physics of the greenhouse effect have been known since the mid-1800s and are widely accepted by the scientific community. And today, there is no serious scientific debate about this fundamental fact: global climate change is very real, is well understood, and is going to get worse unless we act soon.
As we move into the 21st century, changes in our climate—which are already discernible—will begin to affect many aspects of our lives. Whether by changing the way farmers grow crops, how much water we have for our growing population and economy, how cities and towns plan for extreme weather events, or how our iconic lakes and wildlife fare into the future, climate change will become a very real part of our lives. If global climate change continues unchecked, the very character of Minnesota could, in fact, change substantially.
The question before us is, what are we doing about it?
The University is a leader in thinking about climate adaptation: helping society figure out how to adapt to the changes in climate we can’t avoid. This is particularly important to our cities, agriculture, and water resources, where the impacts of climate extremes can be profound and disruptive. In particular, helping our communities become more resilient to climate changes and weather extremes is a high priority for research and education at the University.
Numerous faculty, staff, students, and alumni of the University of Minnesota, along with community partners, are playing an important role in helping us understand how to address the issues of global climate change.
| “Climate change is
very real, is well
understood, and is
going to get worse
unless we act soon.”
— JONATHAN FOLEY —
Minnesota scientists are conducting world-class research on exactly how our climate system is changing and what it means for our region. Interdisciplinary teams of climatologists, ecologists, hydrologists, agronomists, economists, and others are doing pioneering
research on the changing climate of Minnesota and its impact on our ecosystems, lakes, wildlife, cities, and agriculture.
The University is also a world leader in transitioning the world to more renewable forms of energy, helping us avoid further greenhouse gas emissions that would worsen climate change. I expect that many of the key global innovations in renewable energy will come from Minnesota, making us one of the “Silicon Valleys” of future energy systems. This is going to be a very good thing for our economy, especially since Minnesota has no fossil fuel resources of its own and we send billions of dollars out of state each year to import coal, oil, gas, and other fuels. Why not use our own resources—wind, solar, hydro, and biomass energy—and keep that money here, where it can create more jobs and opportunities at home?
Partnerships between the University and Minnesota’s communities, nonprofits, foundations, businesses, and governments can help make this region a leader in addressing climate change challenges—not only here, but around the world. Instead of simply waiting for solutions to come from Washington, D.C., or the United Nations, Minnesotans are rolling up their sleeves and tackling one of the biggest, and most challenging, issues facing the world today.
Together, we can turn this challenge into an opportunity, helping to promote a more sustainable future for the economy and environment of Minnesota.
In February Jonathan Foley received the prestigious Heinz Award in the Environment. Citing his 20-year career in global ecology, the award committee recognized Foley as “a source of hope, fostering collaboration among key stakeholders with the goal of finding practical solutions to address the challenges of feeding the world and minimizing the environmental impact of agriculture.” In August, he will leave the University of Minnesota to become executive director of the California Academy of Sciences.